Any who doubted the characterization of the war on terrorism as a new Cold
War had only to listen to the State of the Union address, Bush's most
depressing speech since he launched his unlimited war with his address to a
joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001.
The following points, all stunningly reminiscent of the 1950's and early
1960's, are easily discerned from the text of the speech:
We are once again a beacon of civilization, on a higher moral plane than
others, opposing absolute evil -- not only did Bush refer twice to the
"civilized world," meaning us and our close allies, we also learn that
Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, along with their "terrorist allies" constitute
an "axis of evil." In a stunning display of hypocrisy, Bush even indicted
Iraq for attempting to weaponize anthrax, something the United States has
been doing itself. Although couched in universalist terms -- "the rule of
law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property,
free speech, equal justice and religious tolerance" -- this renewed, over
cultural supremacism is no less odious than that of the supposedly bygone
We assert as forcefully as we did in the days of fighting the
"international Communist conspiracy," that the war on terrorism allows us
to intervene wherever we like, if we so choose -- "some governments will be
timid in the face of terror. And make no mistake: If they do not act,
America will." Once again, any development anywhere is a threat to our
national security, and "all nations should know: America will do what is
necessary to ensure our nation's security."
We need permanently higher military budgets in order to "defend" ourselves
(with useless and expensive high-tech programs like missile defense and the
joint-strike fighter, not with ways to defend against realistic terrorist
attacks) -- "My budget includes the largest increase in defense spending in
two decades, because while the price of freedom and security is high, it is
never too high: whatever it costs to defend our country, we will pay it."
Bush's proposed new military budget is $379 billion, an increase of $48
billion over the already unexpectedly high 2001 budget -- the increase
alone is larger than any other nation's military budget.
We are once again beset by internal enemies -- "And as government works to
better secure our homeland, America will continue to depend on the eyes and
ears of alert citizens." This is not yet at the level of the House
Un-American Activities Committee hearings and pamphlets on how to tell if
your neighbor is a communist that characterized the 1950's, but it is a
significant step closer.
Our "economic security" is essential to our national security, so
disagreements on economic policy and on how high corporate profit should be
must be submerged to an artificial national unity. Congress must pass an
energy policy that involves more drilling for oil in the United States,
must give the president Trade Promotion Authority (popularly known as
fast-track) in concluding "free trade" agreements, and must make the Bush
tax cut permanent -- all in the name of security.
We are called once again to sacrifice for a very particularly conceived
"national good" -- "My call tonight is for every American to commit at
least two years 4,000 hours over the rest of your lifetime to the service
of your neighbors and your nation." The newly created USA Freedom Corps
needs volunteers to help preserve our "homeland security." The call for
citizens to do some form of public service, in itself, is not a bad thing,
but the choice to ask them to prepare for possible terrorist attacks
instead of trying to provide education, housing, and social services to
people who need them is about attempting to mobilize the time and energy of
the people in the service of the existing power structure and about
co-opting other kinds of popular mobilization.
In sum, the war on terrorism will involve more frequent military
interventions, with less of an attempt to placate international
sensibilities, and with the constant excuse of protecting American
security. It will involve more overt appeals to Western cultural supremacy,
although couched in universalist terms. It will involve more arms
proliferation and a growth of military spending, and a lessening of
democracy in this country, both in terms of the public's ability to affect
decisions and in terms of individual freedom to dissent from the course
advocated by dominant institutions.
If this were the whole story, it would be a very depressing one. But excess
inevitably produces a reaction and empires sooner or later overreach
This country has already seen an antiwar movement spring up with
unprecedented speed, in the aftermath of September 11. Twin upcoming
events, the planned protests at the World Economic Forum in New York, and
the gathering of an estimated 50,000 people at the "alternative" World
Social Forum (in its second year already far larger than the WEF) will
signify the depth and breadth of resistance to the renewed projects of
American imperial domination and domestic social control articulated in
If the power fantasies of the Bush administration are met with renewed and
increased popular mobilization, the frightening world envisioned in the
State of the Union address may not come to pass.
Rahul Mahajan serves on the National Boards of Peace Action and the Education
for Peace in Iraq Center, and is a member of the Nowar Collective (www.nowarcollective.com).
He is the author of the forthcoming "The New Crusade: America's War on Terrorism"
out in March from Monthly Review Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org